DeVos Condemned for Considering 'Unprecedented' and 'Sickening' Plan to Spend Public Funds on Guns for Teachers

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

DeVos Condemned for Considering 'Unprecedented' and 'Sickening' Plan to Spend Public Funds on Guns for Teachers

"America's teachers are already forced to spend their own meager salaries on basic school supplies, but the Trump administration would rather use taxpayer money to buy them guns."

"This may be the most dangerous and irresponsible proposal we've ever seen from the Trump administration."

That's how one critic responded to a New York Times report on Wednesday evening that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering using taxpayer money to arm teachers, a supposed "safety" proposal that President Donald Trump repeatedly praised after 17 people were massacred at a Florida high school in February. The "unprecedented" plan was immediately decried as "absurd," "foolish," and "sickening."

Although $50 million in federal funding that Congress allocated to local schools in March cannot be used for the plan, the Times reports that the Education Department is "eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases."

Because of this omission, the Times adds, DeVos could "use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action."

The grants are part of a $1 billion student support program that, the Times explains, "is intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country's poorest schools and calls for school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning, and improving the use of technology for digital literacy."

The department's thinking, according to multiple unnamed sources, is that the gun purchases could fall under the goal of improving school conditions, but as the Times points out, using the funds to buy firearms "could undermine the grant program's adoption of 'drug and violence prevention,' which defines a safe school environment as free of weapons."

"Instead of after-school programs or counselors, programs that are critical for creating safe and welcoming schools and addressing the mental health needs of kids, DeVos wants to turn schools into armed fortresses and make kids and educators less safe," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools. That's insane."

"Many schools can barely afford nurses or counselors for students--and teachers dip into their own pockets for basic supplies," noted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), calling the proposal "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."

Several other critics were also quick to note how often chronically underpaid educators spend their own money on supplies for their students. According to a department survey published earlier this year, this is common practice among as many as 94 percent of teachers nationwide.

Matt Deitsch graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida before the February shooting, but his brother survived the massacre, and they both have been involved with the youth-led gun control movement that has followed. Responding to the Times report in a series of tweets, the elder Deitsch declared, "The government currently cares more about selling guns than whether your kid survives their education."

Others, including Shannon Watts--who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after 20 children and six adults were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012--framed the plan as a ploy by the Trump administration to benefit gunmakers, noting that major American weapons manufacturers have seen their sales and share values decline since Trump was elected:

"We knew Betsy DeVos would try to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, but to even consider diverting resources used to support poor kids to flood schools with more guns is beyond the recklessness we believed she was willing to pursue," added Weingarten. "Does Betsy DeVos want a kindergarten teacher interacting with her students with a holstered gun on her hip? She needs to stop acting as the lobbyist for the NRA and start acting in the interests of children, parents, and the educators she has a duty to serve and protect as education secretary."

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in 2011 and has become a vocal advocate for stricter gun control, said in a series of tweets that the plan to arm teachers "recklessly puts American children in even more danger," and called on American voters to elect members of Congress who will take action to strengthen gun laws:

News of this controversial plan follows outrage over DeVos's suggestion at a Senate hearing in June that a student safety commission formed after the Parkland shooting would not examine the role of guns in school violence. Although a department spokesperson later claimed that gun violence would be one of more than two dozen topics the commission addresses, as Common Dreams reported, the secretary's exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) rapidly provoked alarm as videos from the hearing circulated online.

The post has been updated with comment from the American Federation of Teachers and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

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